Acura's voice-recognition system is the best in the business, easily recognizing our commands and offering good feedback on the LCD to let us know the next command options. At least, that's how the navigation, audio, and climate voice system works. The voice-recognition system for Bluetooth cell phone recognition is a completely different system. It's also good at recognizing commands, but it doesn't provide the same level of feedback on the screen. And because there are two voice systems, there also are two sets of buttons on the steering wheel for activating voice recognition. We would prefer to see a more integrated system, with one button to activate voice recognition and top-level voice commands for entering the phone system, navigation, climate control, or audio.
The navigation system itself works well. Setting a destination is easy, and its points-of-interest database includes just about anywhere you would need to go. We already covered how well its route guidance and live traffic reporting work above. Our only issues are it doesn't show a split-screen graphic and map for upcoming turns, and it doesn't read out the names of all streets. We don't see the latter text-to-speech functionality in very many cars, but good indications for upcoming turns are very important for a navigation system.
We were prepared to be blown away by the stereo, as we had liked the one in the RDX so much. This stereo has been specially tuned for the MDX and uses 10 speakers. The audio quality was great, but not as impressive as other systems we've heard. The speaker placement in the MDX is similar to the RDX, but it's a much bigger cabin to fill. We didn't feel quite the same surround effect as we did in the RDX. The audio quality was similarly crisp and, as in the RDX, we had to adjust the tuning to get a more satisfying bass note. An extra set of speakers would help this sound system fill the cabin and provide the surround effect this stereo is meant to have.
As for audio sources, this system won't let anyone down. Its six-disc changer can handle MP3 CDs, regular CDs, and DVD audio. You can plug in an MP3 player through RCA jacks in the rear of the console if the car comes equipped with the Entertainment package. XM radio also is included, along with a free three-month subscription.
The Entertainment package adds a rear-seat DVD screen and player, the latter mounted in the stack below the CD player. The screen is a nice, wide 9 inches, and the system includes a pair of wireless headphones and three headphone jacks. A remote for the system pops out of the ceiling screen module. The same RCA jacks that can be used for an MP3 player also can be used to plug in a PlayStation or other game console.
As mentioned above, we wish the phone system was better integrated with the rest of the car systems. It offers basic Bluetooth phone connectivity, and its voice-recognition system makes it easy to dial numbers. But it doesn't copy over address books, requiring you to build it up one entry at a time.
The LCD turns into a rear-view monitor when the MDX is put into reverse, but there are no animated overlays that show where the car is going. It's only useful for seeing if there are obstacles somewhere behind the car. The side mirrors tilt down whenever the car is in reverse, making it easier to see parking lot lines, but not helpful if you're looking for obstacles on the side of the car.
Under the hood
The powerplant in the MDX is a 300 horsepower 3.7-liter V-6, which makes for some underwhelming, though adequate, acceleration. This engine gets the MDX around all right, but it won't throw you back into the seat. The engine's power is channeled through a five-speed automatic. Considering Honda/Acura's tech leadership, not to mention the company's focus on fuel economy, we're surprised the MDX isn't fitted with a six speed.
The powertrain behaved as we would expect, giving us a good boost (as much as the engine could handle) when we wanted to pass someone. The car takes off without hesitation, rolls along well at 70mph on the freeway, and has a fairly responsive throttle for around-town driving. The MDX gets an EPA fuel economy rating of 17mpg city and 22mpg highway. The latter number could probably have been improved with a sixth gear. In our freeway-biased driving, we saw 17.8mpg. This is a very clean engine for an SUV, getting an Ultra Low Emissions II rating from the California Air Resources Board.
While we think the powertrain could use some improvement, the combination of Acura's SH-AWD system and traction control worked very well. In fairly hard cornering, the MDX didn't feel top-heavy at all, but its understeer meant our arms were twisted around on particularly tight corners. The ride quality felt a bit lighter than a typical SUV, and the road is smoothed over by Acura's Active Damper System. The system, which can be turned on with a button labeled Comfort on the console, adjusts the suspension response in milliseconds depending on the current road conditions. It's designed to keep the ride smooth during performance driving, something we felt and appreciated. While jamming down a twisty highway, the ride felt as comfortable as if we were on a flat road.
Our 2007 Acura MDX came with the Entertainment and Sport packages, putting its price at $48,465 with its $670 destination charge. These packages included just about everything you can get in the MDX, including all the dashboard technology.
The only technology in the MDX that we thought really made it over the bar was the SH-AWD. The handling on the MDX felt very good, although the steering could have been tightened up. The voice-command system for the navigation, audio, and climate control is also impressive. We didn't feel the stereo quality came up to the same level as the ELS system in the RDX, although it still is very good. With a similar level of technology, the Lexus RX 350 is a worthwhile competitor to the MDX. On the high side, the Infiniti FX45 also is a solid choice compared to the Acura MDX.